By Mandy Bartok
The town of Arita in Saga prefecture has no shortage of porcelain galleries or even hands-on pottery experiences. If you want to combine both, however, head for the China on the Park complex that sits just at the western edge of town, on the road north towards Imari.
China on the Park is run by the Fukagawa Seiji company, an enterprise founded in the late 1800s by craftsman Chuji Fukagawa. The talented ceramicist managed to capture the gold medal prize for one of his exquisitely detailed vases at the Paris World's Fair in 1900. The prize-winning object and a number of other treasures are on display in the main gallery at the top of the hill. Many of the modern works that are exhibited show a certain adherence to Fukagawa's original ideas while thoroughly updating them for use in today's world.
For more practical pieces, head down the steps to the main shopping complex, where you can wander through the shelves of gorgeous tableware and imagine how they'd look in your very own dining room. This shop is actually known for its good value, as you can obtain certain "imperfect" pieces here at a discount as well as unique items that were deemed "not quite right" for mass reproduction. None of the pieces I examined show flaws of any kind, so this would be an excellent stop for bargain hunters.
If you prefer to make your own porcelain masterpiece, you have the opportunity to do a simple overglaze painting in the workshop attached to the main shopping complex. You can choose from a small range of pieces (large or small plate, coffee mug or tea cup, etc.) that you are then able to customize with a choice of designs in five paint colors. The pieces go through a final firing before they are mailed to customers upon completion (Japan residents only). The price is quite reasonable, ranging from ¥1000 to ¥1500 depending on the size of the piece, but don't forget to add shipping into the final cost.
Should you work up an appetite, China on the Park has a classy French restaurant on site whose menu changes seasonally. In the summertime, visitors are also treated to a flowering lavender garden between the main shop and the gallery.
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